Noe Valley Voice November 2001

Residents and Merchants Lock Horns Over More Meters for 24th Street

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

Are parking meters really needed on 24th Street between Castro and Diamond streets? And if they are, how many? That's the latest parking conundrum to hit Noe Valley -- and it's pitted several longtime residents against merchants along the 4100 block of 24th Street.

In one corner is the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association. Members Gary Speer, owner of Graystone Wine and Liquor, and Diane Barrett, owner of the Indigo V flower shop, are leading the effort to secure 14 new meters, whose use would be enforced between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

"It all started because we had customers coming by saying they were having trouble finding spaces to park," says Speer, who last spring began soliciting signatures on a petition to meter the entire, part-residential, part-commercial block. He also brought the matter to the attention of the Merchants Association and gained the membership's backing.

"We need more parking turnover on this block, and I think we will get that with the meters," agrees Barrett, who moved her flower shop to 24th Street in June after almost 12 years around the corner on Castro Street. "This isn't for me -- it's for my customers who can't find a nearby place to park when they come to pick up their orders."

In the opposite corner are the 20 members of the newly formed Noe Valley Residents and Professionals Association (NVRPA), comprised primarily of residents along 24th Street, joined by B.J. Droubi realtor Terry Lee and Barney's Restaurant manager Bahman Mahnami.

"Parking for residents on this block is difficult as it is," says Steve Rubin, a 25-year resident of the block and a member of the NVRPA. "It can already take 20 to 30 minutes to find a space to park sometimes. Meters are only going to make it worse by bringing more cars into the neighborhood."

"This is a neighborly street," adds Mahnami, who has been manager at Barney's for seven years. "Fifty percent of my customers are from the immediate area -- 24th Street, 23rd, Castro, Jersey, Diamond. Parking meters are not going to help my business. Why should I be in favor of meters? I've been in the restaurant business for 43 years, and the people in this neighborhood are the greatest people I've ever had for customers. Most of them tell me they are opposed to the meters. Why should I upset the people who live around here?"

Mahnami notes that Barney's pays $200 every two years to have a 10-minute green zone in front of the restaurant, which will open up space for customers who need to make a quick stop to pick up an order.

NVRPA members also are concerned that installing meters along their block of 24th Street will make parking more problematic on nearby streets. Says Rubin, "I think we should be looking at the situation on a neighborhood level, not just block by block. What we do on our block affects the other nearby blocks."

B.J. Droubi's Terry Lee concurs.

"I really believe meters will place a tremendous hardship on the residents in the neighborhood," he says. "People who used to park on 24th Street are going to start parking on Diamond or Elizabeth or Jersey or Douglass. There's going to be an overflow and then we're going to have to start talking about getting residential parking permits."

Lee's spouse and fellow realtor B.J. Droubi, however, finds herself taking a more neutral stance on the meter proposal. "Terry really feels strongly about this," she says, "but I don't feel so strongly about meters being a problem."

Droubi says that the 26 agents and five support staffers who work for the agency "have had a mixed reaction to the meter proposal. They see a mixed bag of benefits either way. It's great if they can park all day on 24th Street, but they know it's very difficult now for our customers to find parking."

Meanwhile, Kathy Zucchi, who is vice president of the Merchants Association and works as an investment counselor at Edward Jones on Diamond near 24th Street, believes that having meters is imperative for the merchants.

"This area is retail-driven, and small business owners depend on the turnover of cars," she says. "The Merchants Association doesn't want to pit neighbors against merchants, but it seems like a small price for residents to pay -- trading off a little convenience to help stores in the neighborhood. The Merchants Association would like to have a thriving shopping community along 24th Street, just like on Union and Chestnut streets, but that entails having more parking meters so the street is a more attractive place for shoppers to come to."

Shops Want at Least 14 Meters

The meter controversy began in May, after Speer submitted a petition to the Department of Parking and Traffic signed by merchants and residents on the block who were in favor of installing up to 41 meters. (According to DPT spokesperson Diana Hammond, DPT does not require that a petition be submitted in order to consider installing parking meters. "We will consider the request without a petition," she says. "However, the requestor does need to show support in some way, and many times they do that by petition or letters.")

Once traffic engineers determined that the request was feasible, DPT held two public hearings, at which several residents showed up to protest. Because of the opposition, DPT called for a meeting among merchants, residents, and DPT traffic engineers in the hopes of reaching a compromise.

"A lot of us felt blindsided when we got the notice about the hearings," says NVRPA member Norm Meislich, who has lived on the block for seven years. "DPT only gives a 10-day notice about the hearing, so we didn't have enough notice to prepare an effective defense. The only way to stop these things is to organize a massive protest at the hearing. However, DPT saw we were upset enough that they didn't approve the meters outright."

On Aug. 10, Speer, Barrett and her husband, four residents, including Meislich and Rubin, along with two DPT traffic engineers, met to talk compromise.

By the end of the meeting, this is what was put on the table: a plan to install four green meters at the existing green zones in front of Barney's, Tom's Peasant Pies, and Mailboxes, Etc., and seven 2-hour meters on the south side of the street from Rory's Twisted Scoop to Miss Millie's.

The group also discussed adding three more meters on the north side of 24th Street, from Tropical Island to the Diamond Corner Café, and working together to reduce the frequency of street cleaning on the block.

"We thought we left that meeting with a compromise agreement to have 14 meters on the street," says Barrett.

Residents Say 9 Are Enough

The residents, however, saw it another way.

"We left the meeting thinking this was a tentative proposal," says Rubin. "There was not an absolute agreement. We knew that we didn't speak for all the residents, and that we needed to go back to the other members of the group to get a consensus."

Following the meeting, Meislich also says he and other residents realized for the first time that not all the merchants on the block were in favor of the meters.

"We didn't realize until after the meeting that Barney's, which pays for one of the existing green zones, was against installing meters," he says. (Barney's also is not a member of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association.)

Residents also decided that reducing street cleaning "will not help either the residents or the merchants on the block," says Meislich. "Instead, it will allow the use of non-metered spots on the block for unrestricted multi-day parking. This will have the opposite effect of reducing the parking turnover that the merchants are looking for."

Consequently, members of the NVRPA drew up a counterproposal, which would install nine meters -- two green and seven regular -- all at the Castro end of the block.

The group also asked the Merchants Association to write a letter stating that they would not support or participate in future attempts to secure more parking restrictions along the 4100 block of 24th Street or on nearby Diamond Street.

According to Rubin, the residents are against the installation of the four meters near Diamond because "it is not the busy end of the street, and also we fear that those meters will be a segue way towards filling the gaps between the two ends of the block with meters. That's also why we asked for the letter from the Merchants Association."

Soon after reviewing the NVRPA's proposal, the Merchants Association rejected it.

"I really don't think what we're asking for is too much," says Barrett. "I mean, DPT was ready originally to give us 41 meters. So we're asking that 14 of 41 spaces be metered. Four of those spaces are already green zones, so really we're asking for 10 new controls."

Adds Speer, "We feel we have bent over backwards for the residents. I work on this block and I live upstairs from my store, and I just bought a car for the first time in 30 years, so believe me, I know both sides of the picture."

To create more awareness about the meter controversy, members of the NVRPA pooled their financial resources to take out a full-page ad in the October Voice, calling for "Noe More Parking Meters in Noe Valley." The group also has begun circulating a petition along 24th and surrounding streets.

Sides Becoming Entrenched

As the situation becomes more contentious, some merchants and residents have expressed reluctance to take a public stand for fear of angering either side. Others, like Larry Kline, owner of Noe Valley Cyclery, want more information.

"I didn't feel I could sign any petition without having a solid idea of how much turnover there currently is of cars on the block," Kline says.

Although San Francisco Mystery Bookstore manager Gary McDonald signed the petition in support of meters, he also has been staying out the fray.

"As a merchant, I think the idea of having meters is wonderful because it's going to help parking on the street open up faster," says McDonald. "But as a person who commutes by car here, it's not going to be so great.

"I guess it's a case of greed winning out over convenience for me," he laughs. On a more serious note, McDonald says he has received complaints from his customers about not being able to find parking. "People from all over the Bay Area come to this store, and most of them need to drive to get here," he says.

Still other residents and merchants believe that installing meters will only wreak more havoc on the neighborhood. They feel that merchants and residents need to band together to come up with a comprehensive parking plan.

"For personal reasons, having meters would be better for me," says Richard Jones, who has had his optometry business on the 4100 block of 24th Street for the past 21 years. "But I didn't sign the petition in favor of meters because I believe meters would make things worse for the neighborhood. They're just going to shift the parking problem from merchants to residents and bring more cars around. What we really need is more parking spaces."

Where it will all end, no one knows. At press time, both merchants and residents were awaiting an Oct. 26 hearing on the matter (10 a.m., Room 416, City Hall).

"We worked very hard on this," says Speer. "We feel we have negotiated in good faith and that the compromise we have offered is reasonable. Now we're at an impasse because we're not going to accept anything less."

Counters Rubin, "This is creating a rift between neighbors and merchants, but there are too many people who don't want this for us to just roll over. I've been a resident here for too long to do that."